Providing world-class higher education

AS I WRITE the buzz of police helicopters overhead is a reminder that students are marching in central London to protest against higher tuition fees and the Government’s plans for a more competitive market-driven higher education system.

Students, like other citizens, have the right to participate in peaceful protest - and marching through the capital to the rhythm of catchy slogans is fun. But listening is also a crucial component of any debate. Can it be realistic at a time of unprecedented financial pressures to insist on ‘No ifs, no buts, no education cuts’?

Some of the protesters broke away to set up tents around Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. Their motives seem a little diffuse, not to say confused, encapsulating green and anti-capitalist, anti-corruption agendas (and who would not be anti-corruption?).

If you happen to be ideologically averse to competition it can be a tough world, for ‘competition is a fact of life for universities’ to quote Paul Clark, director of policy at Universities UK. ‘They compete for part-time students; post-graduate students for research funding and for international students. So this is not something that we should be afraid of as a sector’.

We’re getting there, but there still needs to be a process of measured debate following the response received to the Government’s Higher Education White Paper: Students at the Heart of the System. Under its proposals universities will be able to compete for students who attain AAB grades or above.

Additional student places will be awarded to institutions that charge £7,500 or lower and represent better value for money for students. This will support smaller universities and encourage further education colleges to enter the higher education sector.

It is important that our universities continue to provide world-class teaching and the White Paper outlines a commitment to reducing bureaucracy in the sector, strengthening the regulatory framework and promoting collaboration with universities and industry.

The higher education sector is going to experience positive changes. I am confident that this will ensure funding is targeted more effectively, social mobility is promoted, and students can make a more informed choice over where they choose to study.

The focus is turning back onto what universities can offer students, rather than what students can offer universities, demonstrating a positive step forward in the provision of world-class higher education.


MP for Horsham